By Patrice Nkrumah, Special to The Final Call
KENOSHA, Wisc.—Authorities in Kenosha County released the names and booking photos of some of the people arrested there during the unrest since the police shooting of Jacob Blake.
Of the 252 arrested, over half are from outside of Kenosha County and most are White. The information contradicts the public perception that most of those who were participating in violent criminal activity in Kenosha were Black or part of the Black Lives Matter movement. Instead, what has been learned is that most of those arrested came from other states, were White, were wearing Black Lives Matter t-shirts and some had violent backgrounds.
The FBI arrested two White men from Hartville, Mo., Sept. 2 at a LaQuinta Inn in neighboring Pleasant Prairie, Wisc., after receiving a tip the men were headed to the Kenosha area to participate in violence towards protestors. Michael M. Karmo, 40, and Cody E. Smith, 33, are charged with illegal possession of firearms and are currently being held awaiting a bond hearing. When the charges were announced, authorities said the pair came to Kenosha because President Donald Trump was coming to town and they wanted to be there, but they also had an ominous plan to “pick someone off.”
Authorities say they received permission to search the men’s vehicle, obtained a search warrant for the men’s motel room and allegedly recovered an Armory AR-15 rifle, a Mossberg 500 AB 12-gauge shotgun, two handguns, a silencer, ammunition, body armor, a drone, and other materials.
Mr. Karmo has prior felony convictions. Mr. Smith has a prior misdemeanor domestic battery conviction. Investigators say, in court records, neither of the men are legally allowed to possess guns or ammunition.
The arrests were comforting yet still troubling for many of Kenosha’s Black residents who said they definitely noticed the number of armed White men who had descended upon the city during the unrest.
“I saw White individuals who were wearing Black Lives Matter shirts, but who also were wearing gas masks, had backpacks and were riding bicycles,” James Hall said. “Some of them had shields. I knew it was orchestrated. They were part of a team. I saw them reach inside a backpack and get roman candles and start shooting them at the police. So at this point the police can’t tell who is who and they too have to defend themselves. They had to see all of the foreign license plates coming into the area and they didn’t do anything to stop it.”
Sheriff David Beth said those arrested came from places like Missouri, California, Oregon, Illinois and other surrounding states. He defended the actions of his deputies, even as the media and citizens have been critical of the department’s efforts to keep the citizens safe.
While thankful police have captured the two individuals, Kenosha’s residents are still angry that a person like Kyle Rittenhouse was able to come into the city, shoot two people, walk right past several officers and return to his hometown of Antioch, Illinois, before being arrested and charged with two counts of murder and one count of attempted murder.
An eyewitness to Mr. Rittenhouse’s actions earlier in the night shared his account with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Jeremiah, 24, said he saw many armed White men with 17-year-old Rittenhouse. Two were crouched on the roof of a building, sniper style. Two or three others stood guard over a car parking lot, of which the owner has since stated publicly, he did not know the men and did not ask for their assistance. One of them, a babyface with a backward ball cap, raised an assault rifle and pointed it at Jeremiah, as he attempted to cut through the businesses’ parking lot to get to his own vehicle. That person was later identified through video as Mr. Rittenhouse.
Hundreds of White men with guns had answered an online call from a militia group known as the Kenosha Guard, which is led by former Kenosha city Alderman Kevin Mathewson. The rumors were the men would be waiting in the park where protests were taking place to shoot protestors who they felt were getting out of line.
Mr. Mathewson has gone into hiding since the night of the Rittenhouse shootings, but previously told Milwaukee’s Fox 6 News, that while he was out near the site of the shooting on the night in question, he had left hours before the 11:45 p.m. shooting and was patrolling his own community. He added that he was surprised his posting on social media had gotten nearly 5,000 responses and local law enforcement officials believe nearly 1,000 people responded to his call and came to Kenosha. The city had instituted a curfew that night, which Mr. Rittenhouse and hundreds of others were violating.
Kenosha County Sheriff Beth when speaking with reporters said he had been contacted by a group of individuals who were seeking to be deputized during the unrest. He believes the group that put in the request was the same group of White men who were seen around Kenosha wearing camouflage and displaying semi-automatic rifles.
“Hell no,” responded the sheriff to their request, who said the shooting by Mr. Rittenhouse was the perfect example of why it was a bad idea for armed citizens to take to the streets.
But Sherriff Beth could not explain why some of his deputies and police officers from other agencies were seen in the hours before the Rittenhouse shooting giving water to the teen and the people who were with him. One officer is seen on a video posted online thanking the group that included Mr. Rittenhouse for their help—though they were civilians in violation of the city’s 8 p.m. curfew.
“We appreciate you guys,” the officer on the video says. “We really do.”
Sherriff Beth’s deputies and other law enforcement members being so friendly with the militia groups is not sitting well with many of Kenosha’s residents, especially Black ones. Mr. Hall, president of the Urban League for Kenosha and Racine, said it was inviting trouble to the small town of just under 100,000 residents.
“Early on I could see this situation was going to continue to escalate, I knew there were agitators here on the very first night,” Mr. Hall said. “There were some young people that formed a new group, BLAK, and I told them ‘we have to refocus this message.’ When they heard Donald Trump was coming, they understood there was a bigger problem on the way, so we shifted gears to healing, showing unity and community.”
BLAK and the Urban League helped the Blake family organize a community gathering the day Mr. Trump came to Kenosha. The community day was held at the scene where Mr. Blake was shot at least seven times in the back on Aug. 26 by a White officer with the Kenosha Police Dept. They intentionally chose the location of the shooting because President Trump was to speak at a venue not far from there and they wanted to send a message that the Black community was not filled with a bunch of thugs.
Mr. Blake, 29 is still hospitalized from his injuries and is now paralyzed from the waist down. Family attorney Benjamin Crump posted a video message on Twitter from Mr. Blake where the young father implored young people to understand how precious life can be.
“I just want to say, man—a lot of young cats out there and even the older ones, older than me, it’s a lot more life to live out here, man,” he said. He described the injuries and constant physical pain he is enduring from his injuries but also had a message of uplift.
“Stick together, make some money, make everything easier for our people out there, man, because there’s so much time that’s been wasted,” said Mr. Blake
Mr. Hall believes the police in Kenosha are to blame for instigating the violence that took place in the hours following the shooting of Mr. Blake. He was on the scene where many people had gathered to voice their displeasure with the situation as police were gathering evidence. He said the scene was relatively calm until a White female officer went to her car and started putting on riot gear in front of the crowd.
“This younger generation is different. They meet force with force,” Mr. Hall said. “They didn’t hit them or anything, but they definitely got in their faces and expressed their displeasure with them starting to put on riot gear. Her actions changed the entire energy at the scene.”
Mr. Hall said there has been problems with the police training in Kenosha for years. He said Mr. Blake’s shooting bears out those facts in that two tasers were supposedly deployed in an attempt to subdue him, but the tasers either didn’t work or were not used properly and three officers on the scene did not contain him.
“Our police just were not prepared. They were overwhelmed,” Mr. Hall said.
Mr. Hall is very concerned that the calm taking place now in Kenosha will be short lived if the officers involved in this incident are not disciplined, and the one who shot Mr. Blake, identified as Rusten Sheskey, is not arrested and charged soon. He believes that if rioting takes place again, with the police not being able to handle the situation, and White militia groups proving they can come into a town, shoot people and leave without being detained, that Black Americans could be targeted just as the two men arrested have suggested.
“The reason why there were no Black citizens killed or shot during all of this is because they were home, respecting the curfew that was in place,” Mr. Hall said. “Those who have legal guns, have to have them on them, or readily available. In addition, everyone involved with giving the militia groups access to our city should be charged as accomplices in the murders. They are just as guilty as the person who pulled the trigger.”